Our human desire for both spiritual and physical affection is two of the strongest and most potent aspects of our human existence. It involves quenching the desires of our soul and our senses derived from the soul e.g. intellect, will, reason, logic, and love. When these affections are properly ordered they take on a sacrificial nature versus a selfish one. This reflects a natural disposition toward Christ and freely embracing His sacrificial love for us and imparting unto others. We must keep in mind that the moment sin entered freely into the heart and soul of our first parents our own human faculties would bear the brunt of this first sin. Our desire to live a life centered on Christ is a contested one due to the inclination to sin.
Man participates in the wisdom and goodness of the Creator who gives him mastery over his acts and the ability to govern himself with a view to the true and the good. The natural law expresses the original moral sense which enables man to discern by reason the good and the evil, the truth and the lie (CCC 1954).
The Catechism reminds us that we do indeed have mastery over our acts in order to govern ourselves to choose good over evil through our moral sense. Our own human reason directs us to perform good acts and avoid sinful ones. This order of reason is a gift from God Himself which stems from the divine and natural law that helps us practice these good acts.
Avoiding the Trap of Spiritual Neglect
As I mentioned earlier the human desire for affection if not properly ordered can cloud not only the free mutual self-giving of spouses, it can also deepen this materialistic attitude where the well-being of each other is only taken into consideration when one receives something from the other. The process of spiritual neglect begins with a very humanistic approach to marriage where the male and female simply engage in desires outside of the covenantal act of marriage.
One of the by-products of a spiritually neglected spouse is the disdain one spouse shows toward the other due in part because of a lack of spiritual and human intimacy. This simply means that there is no communication i.e. engagement of the soul. The sacrament of marriage aims to perfect the love of the couple which also reflects a willingness help one another attain holiness in life and bear a love that is both directed at one another and for the creation of children (CCC 1641).
One way to avoid the trap of spiritual neglect is to begin offering oneself as a spiritual sacrifice toward the other in service. We are called to serve one another in fidelity and mutual respect where we look toward fostering the spiritual welfare of the spouse in union with Christ. A good starting point is praying for your spouse every morning and every evening by a simple method of calling upon the intercession their guardian angel or a particular saint.
Marriage as an Act of Prayer
If we read St. Paul’s letter to the Romans very carefully we see St. Paul spiritually carving out a route that man’s soul must take in order to exercise a healthy understanding and living of the dignity of the human person. This theme is especially poignant in chapter seven where he urges us to die to the law of man which in turn frees us to live according to a new life in the spirit (7:4-6). Another example is his exhortation to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (12:1-2).
These particular scripture passages establish an opportunity for us to reflect on the sacrament of Holy Matrimony as an authentic act of prayer centered on Christ. If the basic principle of marriage is man and woman marrying one another under the eyes of the Church this also means that the spouses intercede and offer each other up in spiritual sacrifices.
St. John Paul II tells us that love is always a mutual relationship between persons. . . Love between man and woman is one particular form of love, in which elements common to all of its form are embodied in a certain way (Love and Responsibility pg. 73). Fr. Paul Quay expands on this point in his book The Christian Meaning of Human Sexuality where he reminds us that the Man who truly loves his wife satisfies her greatest need as a woman, her need for the security of a steadfast love and faithful protection. The maturity of love that Fr. Quay describes in man is a result of a commitment to prayer in the marital relationship. It reveals a cooperation with the Divine plan of marriage (Mt 9:33; Jn 4:34) where communication with God serves as the core foundation to any covenantal relationship.
Affirming Your Covenantal Marriage
In any covenantal relationship the ultimate goal is sanctification through the glorification of Christ and not in us. This formula allows us to clearly articulate a genuine love for one another in Christ and in turn aides our understanding of one another as a son or daughter of Christ. This formula also allows us to avoid the possibility of spiritual neglect within the covenantal relationship. Here are a couple of suggestions to consider the next time you begin to experience or recognize the onset of spiritual neglect;
- Husband and wife must reverence each other and the marriage relation, this is essential.
- Total self-giving is the key to successful marriage.
- Love is the key to self-giving.
- Love is more powerful than the intellect.
- Husband and wife must have a love of Christ between them. Without this no human relation is possible.
- Only God can meet all of our needs.
St. Maximillian Kolbe, pray for us!